Pigeon Forge, a 20+ Year Perspective
"First, Let's Talk About The Park"
Pigeon Forge sits on the edge of the The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The park is an amazing piece of Appalachian wilderness, it is a place of mountains, waterfalls, and creeks, preserved homesteads and wild animals. The park is exceptionally accessible by vehicle, there are numerous pull offs, a mostly one way motor trail, a one way loop road in Cade's Cove and many scenic overlook parking areas.
The more adventurous will find miles of trails, from just a few hundred-yard quiet walk ways, to multi-mile trails that seemingly go up and up, then turn the edge of the hill and go up some more. The Appalachian Trail also passes through the park. Choose a trail appropriate for the time and experience you have, wear comfortable, broken in footwear, even on short hikes pack some water, some high energy food, a light waterproof shell type coat and a flashlight. Certainly consult a trail guide if you are unfamiliar with where you are going and what you will face, this place is wild and offers the inherent dangers associated with such a hike.
If you stay in Pigeon Forge, I would recommend at least setting one day aside to tour the park. Pack a lunch, poke along doing the speed limit and just pull off at places that look interesting. Chimney Tops picnic area is very nice and is located along a rushing creek. I would not recommend wading or swimming in the creeks, moving water can cause foot entrapment with the potential for drowning. Do not try to climb a waterfall, about 10 folks a year have falling accidents related to them.
Cade's Cove is a favorite place, but can be crowded. Get there early or late to avoid the traffic. Take some time to visit the restored homesteads and buildings. Hiking in the cove is mostly flat. The meadows and flat terrain offer a good chance to see wildlife. Also, be aware that the loop road is closed for the exclusive use of bikes until 10 a.m. on Wend and Saturday.
The park is popular and draws many visitors, avoiding the crowds comes down to a few basic strategies. Avoid the summer heavy season; the weekends and the October leaf season are first on the list. Another solution is to get to the park very early in the day or later in the day, which also usually pays dividends in terms of spotting wildlife. Traveling to some of the lesser-known locations that are more lightly travelled, like Greenbrier Cove, Abrams Creek and the Foothills Parkway are good ways to avoid crowds. There are also some gravel one-way roads that lead out of the park and are lightly traveled. Those roads are subject to weather related and maintenance closures.
Weather wise, realize that as elevations change things get cooler. I have personally been in shorts and a sweatshirt on the valley floor only to find a light overnight snow at high points of the park.
Will you see bears? Maybe, there are over 1,500 of them in the park. However, there are also many undeveloped places for them to use. My experience is seeing a bear is an unexpected and rare treat.
First, don't let the tales of traffic woes scare you away. Pigeon Forge has been working on this issue and I have seen it improve over the years. With some planning, and a few tips, you can minimize your time in traffic.
There is no doubt that traffic can be a challenge in Pigeon Forge and the surrounding area. See the above recommendations for avoiding the heavy visiting seasons for the park as it applies to the whole area and the traffic situation. Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the park can also be viwed as one would approach a trip to a large city, try to be moving in the opposite direction of the usual traffic pattern. For this area, that means avoid trying to head into the area in the late morning and on a Friday evening. Think early and late for traveling the roads, Saturday afternoons are generally a challenge between new arrivals and day visitors heading into shop and have other fun.
Also use a few minutes of internet time and look at the Visitor's Bureau site, make note of the weekends when there are car shows as they do host some big ones. Those guys and gals deservedly want to show off their cars and those shows can create a frustrating traffic situation.
Here are a few additional tips for dealing with traffic. Find, get to know, and love Teaser Lane. It is a four lane road, with turning lanes that parallels the main road through Pigeon Forge. Many casual visitors still do not know it is there. When traffic is bad, you can miss probably 9 very long blocks, maybe two miles, of stop and go traffic by using that side road.
Consider alternate routes into the area. From Knoxville SR441 takes you around some of the traffic. Or consider SR 73,115, 129 to Townsend and then in on SR 73/321. From the east, consider SR 411 and SR 321 as routes to avoid the one main N/S road into the area. Also consider the foothills parkway. There are also additional highway projects going on, to provide better access.
One more piece of advice would be help with congestion by taking the Trolley.
"Timeshares and Vacation Clubs"
The Pigeon Forge area is a very popular tourist attraction. As a result, there is an active timeshare and vacation club market there. You won't be there long until you will encounter a kiosk and some friendly folks wanting to know if you would like free tickets to a show or attraction. These people are schedulers for tours.
If you have enough time, think a few hours here, to spend walking around a property and then getting a sales presentation then you may want to consider the offer. Expect a multi-stage sales pitch, including at least a portion of the time getting double teamed by your salesperson and the closer. Expect to say "no" a few times and have a concensus with your spouse about the tour and decision, because if there is a crack to work these people will find it. Even if you are interested, say "no" a few times and watch the price go down and a few perks get added to the deal.
Ask 10 people who own timeshares and vacation clubs and you will probably get answers ranging from best to worst decision they ever made. There are many websites with better developed buying guides than what I can post here. If you have internet access while on vacation and before you attend a tour, do some buyer research. But this industry is certainly a part of Pigeon Forge and visitors should have an awareness that they will likely come in contact with it.
One piece of advice I would give is to look on the net at various auction and sales sites to get a notion of the market price for the product and the on-going costs you will encounter. If you want to say "no", quoting an internet price for his product to the closer in a voice that is conversational but loud enough that other couples being sold in the boiler room can hear it is a quick way to get your free tickets, a handshake and be sent on your way. And if you actually consider buying, you can use that price for negotiating a more reasonable price.
Do I own a timeshare? Yes, hence the 20 year perspective for the area. When I write that annual maintenance check I think it is one of the worst decisions I ever made. But when we go there or one of the other properties owned by our association, I walk out on to the balcony to that million dollar view or I relax on the way there knowing that there will be no surprises, it is worth it. There is something to be said about knowing exactly what your rooms are like, that it and the property is maintained to the highest level and knowing the people I will be dealing with, including the security guys.